Bouncing Basketballs and Basilicas in Buffalo: A Feeling of Being at Home

Firstly, I have to say that I would like to take the title of laziest Catholic blogger from Emily Stimpson Chapman.  (By the way, Emily and her husband Chris are raising money to adopt a baby – you can support them here). Anyway, my last post was all the way back in September, and there’s certainly been a lot that’s happened since then in my life!

This semester has brought new classes, and new patients to visit at the hospital but the same community and of course that beautiful prayer time that’s so important.

There are two events I want to highlight – both times I went to places where I had never been, yet the feeling of being at home there couldn’t have been any stronger.

One of those events was a Basketball Tournament held at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH. Twelve seminaries are invited from as far away as North Carolina and Louisiana to take part in this tournament.

I made it on the team, but it wasn’t because of my athletic swiftness or muscular physique. With only twelve guys at the seminary, the pickings were slim. So, our small team of seven trained long and hard for almost a month, managing to crank out three arduous practices leading up to the tournament. And the question “What’s a basketball?” was only asked once…

So, there was a lot going against us…. But that didn’t stop our excitement, nor did it stop a bet between the faculty and the seminarians.

The expectations were high, and the stakes were even higher…

“If you don’t score twenty points in one game,” the rector proposed, “you have to wash our [the faculty and bishop’s] cars.”

We agreed.

We came to the tournament with full confidence, and minutes before the game we were pumped up with more excitement than you could shake a stick at. Then when our fellow seminarian-coach asked if we had any questions before the game a hand went up…

“What’s a foul?”

Perhaps a little perplexed Coach Brian gave the answer, and our full confidence withered down to a mere hope of getting those twenty points…

And in fact we did get over twenty points in both our games; neither time was that enough to win. But that didn’t matter to us. What did matter was the brotherhood we shared with other seminarians between games, and in the evening as we hung out around the seminary.

SPS_Bball_2018
Our lean mean team with a dream!

That, to me, was the most amazing part of the tournament. Despite the fact that we had never met the men from these other seminaries before, there was an instant bond between us, an instant brotherhood that took place, because we had so much in common. We talked about what we enjoyed about seminary life, and about some of the difficulties. Most importantly we were united in prayer through attending Mass together, united by the love of God. I propose that this was the foundation upon which our fraternity is grounded. Despite what our common experiences may have been, it is the love of God that unites us so strongly. Our focus on getting close to our God brings us close to each other.

I experienced this deep fellowship again when I went on a weekend trip to Buffalo over Spring Break.

First, I was able to visit a friend from college who lives in Olean, NY, home to one of the newest basilicas, the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. While the church itself was built in 1915, it was just declared a basilica by Pope Francis last year.

Michael_and_JP_in_Olean[1]
Michael and I in the wonderful basilica in Olean!
After that I made my way up to Christ the King Seminary (CKS) in East Aurora, NY. Once again I found that beautiful brotherhood through prayer and conversation at table.

The next day was quite full, and included a few surprises. While I knew a few guys at CKS because this was a last minute trip, I expected to go adventuring on my own. The biggest surprise of the weekend had to be that one of the seminarians, Deacon Tim, offered to take me around for the better part of the day.

I was amazed.

I was amazed, not only because he offered to be my tour guide, but the conversation we had was beyond small talk, it was as if we had known each other for a number of years. If I had to describe the feeling it was like catching up with a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.

Deacon_Tim_and_JP_Niagara
One of my new friends – Deacon Tim – even though he feels like a brother!

He took me to a beautiful convent of cloistered nuns in Buffalo, where I got to serve Mass. Deacon Tim and I went right into the sacristy upon arriving. He explained to the extern sister that I was a visiting seminarian and he asked if I could serve. “I don’t have to serve, if it makes things more complicated,” I said trying not to be a bother.

“Do you not like to serve?” the extern sister retorted.

“No, no I do!”

“Good, good,” said Deacon Tim, “that was a test, and you passed,” he chuckled.

Not only was the chapel beautiful, but those nuns could sing! They sounded like a choir of angels, and it made for a beautiful start to the day.

Following Mass Deacon Tim and I went up to Niagara Falls, watching in awe as the water continuously cascaded down to the base of the falls. Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR makes a connection between the water pouring over the falls and the love of God constantly pouring into our hearts, it was a powerful thing to meditate upon as we watched and heard that water fall.

Niagara Falls_1

Before heading back to CKS we made a final stop at Our Lady of Victory in Lackawana, NY, which was gorgeous, and is most definitely worth a trip all on its own. With a baroque architecture, I felt like I had been transported to a basilica in Rome. Deacon Tim and I walked around the beautiful structure that contained thousands of statues, a full array of colors, and towards the end of our visit a fire alarm…

As it turns out some other seminarians from Christ the King also went to the basilica, and used a little too much incense while they were having adoration in a small chapel below the main church.

Our Lady of Victory_1

Buffalo-5
Some of the gorgeous Stations of the Cross in the Basilica!

So what may have started as a simple basketball tournament, and a short Spring Break trip became great discoveries; discovery of brothers about which I never knew, and of some beautiful churches that inspired my faith.

In a way, in all these unfamiliar places I felt at home. I was around people who felt like old friends, and visited churches that will now always be a home to me – just like every Catholic church I have the opportunity to visit. Where Jesus is present, I feel at home, and he was present in the tabernacle of those churches and chapels and he was present in the hearts of those seminarians whom I encountered.

 

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